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Sunday January 21 - 7:15 am. 

The marimba ringtone alarm from a nightstand iPhone jolts me awake. My elderly mother’s uber-tiny bedroom feels like I’ve awakened inside a doll house. I sit up in her bed to reorient, the persistent sucking and beeping sounds from an oxygen machine now faintly audible from outside a bedroom door. 

My weekend solo trek home to check in on mom was wrapping up. I need to get up and on the road soon. Back to my own life. A day of heavy traffic and endless podcasts await.  

I lie back onto a bed probably not slept in since my last visit, mom now preferring to fold her small, bony frame onto the living room couch every night, closer to her oxygen, the all-important bathroom, the ever-present television showing non-stop reruns of Blue Bloods or NCIS, the volume cranked up high. My own mornings usually begin in a spacious kitchen with my favorite blue coffee mug, the view of my back woods, maybe some stretching in the basement, then a bit of light reading before starting a workday in the home office. Most mornings, I might not even use my own speaking voice for hours. 

But that wouldn’t be today. I brace myself, and as I slowly open her bedroom door, all those faint sounds amplify. And then I feel mom’s presence, standing in perhaps the world’s tiniest kitchen, a trail of clear plastic cannula tubes snaking across her carpet.

“Goooooooood morning…did you get enough sleep, honey?” Her volume and alertness at this hour are jarring, suggestive of a sleeping pattern more in keeping with a vampire. 

“Yeah, mom. All good. Went out fast last night.” Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlburg are still on the TV screen, working another case. “When did you get up?”

“Oh, you know me. I had to get into the bathroom, well I think four times and I tried so hard not to wake you dear you have such a long drive ahead of you today I’ve been up since 4:30 there’s so much to get ready and I know you have to get on the road they’re gonna want to see you and I don’t want you to have to drive in the dark and I was up all night worried sick about this weather that’s supposed to roll through here you’re probably gonna hit it….”

“Mom…mom…MOM, easy.” COPD somehow hadn’t limited her ability to extract so much verbiage from just one breath. “Look, I’ve got a little time. Relax. I’m just not used to…”      


“Now, are you ready for your bagels?” I spot an assembly line of food-related items blanketing the limited kitchen surface. Feeding me right now, and all along my six-hour drive, is a task my mother must desperately accomplish. As has become her practice on these visits, she no doubt had been game planning this for hours.

I consider the all-too-familiar scene and conclude the following: 1.) At 81 and no longer able to drive, mom has lost control of just about everything in her life. 2.) Going through this borderline psychotic exercise is existentially important to her. 3.) To deny her this performance would not be saving her limited precious energy. It would be hostile of me, maybe even cruel. 

Even as my sides ache from being overfed the night before, I watch the words escape my mouth. “Sure, mom. Sure.”

“I have two in the toaster, shall I start them?”

“ is plenty…i never eat that much in the…”

“But you hardly ate last night, now I think you can eat…”

‘Okay, mom. Go ahead.” 

Mom was used to getting what she wanted. Not getting it in any given moment often provoked what I now affectionately refer to as a “psychotic event”, the unspoken threat of a petulant temper tantrum that comes from being denied, from not being in control. Minimizing psychotic events is now the goal, in fact my ONLY goal, for the next hour. The best plan is total acquiescence, and to hopefully keep my head from exploding.

“And are you ready for some coffee? I refilled the machine, so let me know when you’re ready. Now, I have three kinds of cream cheese here, so tell me what kind you want me to spread on these, or do you just want butter?”

I eyeball the Big❣Hug mug in her Keurig, the Dunkin’ Donuts chambered K-cup…the only thing I really want in this moment. The thought of everything else causes me literal pain.  

“Do you want them cut in halves, or….”

“Sorry, mom. I don’t care much about that. I usually don’t even eat, so…”

“But I don’t want to get it wrong you just have to let me know honey that’s all, now look, I have…”

I know where this is going. I quickly refocus 100% on giving her exactly what she wants. What she needs

“Mom, I’d really love that coffee, and it would be great if you’d just put some butter on those two bagels, and cut them in just halves. And I’ll take that little plastic fruit cup. I don’t need it in a dish. I don’t need a second fork, or an entire stack of napkins. And I don’t need you to cut the pineapple chunks into even smaller slivers, because I simply shovel that stuff down without thinking and frankly…” Mom’s laughing hard now. 

Another psychotic event deftly averted

With the tension broken, I take a moment to study her. I’m struck with just how much weight she’s put on, particularly in her middle. All her life a glamor girl, a drama queen, the life of the party who turned the head of every man. But the cumulative effect of a lifetime of dysfunctional choices have brought her, brought us, to this peculiar moment. I flashback to a memory of a young boy watching his pretty, single mom managing her own crazy mother. The bizarre, destructive symbiosis that conjoined them. She would be molded in her own mother’s image, and no man…in fact no person, would ever get between them.

When the transformation into her own mother was finally complete, and another transfer of generational dysfunction seemed assured, I could see my own future. And the solution became crystal clear - a profound change in the dynamic between us.

She will never know or even understand the fact that a six-hour car ride between her and me was no random happenstance. It was a conscious act of self-survival. That evil spirit, that devil  in a bottle that possessed most of my lineage, had stood firmly between my mother and me for my entire adult life. But now, in this tiny kitchen, it felt good to see her completely free of that liquid demon. As if there was one fewer person in the room.    

Lately, these dances between us were easier, even funny. I let her go a while, helping her like she’s adding real value. Then I let her go a little further. And then she pushes it so far that I’m that close to losing it. And this is where I try and reach deeply within myself, remembering that she just desperately needs to feel like a good mother. For too long, she wasn’t able to feel that. 

I sip my coffee in the Big ❣ Hug mug and smile, watching mom organize.

“Okay, now, let me show you what you’ve got for your trip.” Mom walks me through a breathtaking array of wrapped sandwiches, mini-tupperware containers with nuts and pretzels and grapes, ice containers, soda and water bottles, fruit cups, and a variety of plastic cutlery. Everything has actual adhesive labels on it with my name and what it is, in very neat ALL CAPS lettering. It looked like a traveling lunch box prepared for perhaps ten kindergartners.    

“Wow, mom. Amazing. Only you could have made this.”

I finish my coffee, force down the bagels and share a final bit of small talk. Soon, we both knew it’s time for me to leave. With my bags already packed and in the car, I slowly make my way to the living room to say goodbye. We’d already gone through her lengthy checklists just to make sure that her 58-year old son didn’t forget anything. 

From this overly dramatic woman who started every casual conversation for the last thirty years with …in the event of my death…, we’d finally reached the moment where that was actually a looming possibility. And as she stands before me, hunched over a tangled web of oxygen tubes, she seems to grasp the totality of all she’d missed. Loved ones that addiction forced to scatter were still around, but at painful arms length, emotionally just out of reach. 

I detect no trace of meanness, or malice, or grievance, the way her own mother had left this world. I see nothing but pure remorse, and we feel it together. As I hug mom goodbye, her mouth quivers, and she begins to cry hard tears. Always prideful to a fault, I couldn’t remember ever seeing her cry like that. 

As Pennsylvania gives way to Jersey, then New York, my thoughts drift. I feel the persistent pang of loneliness that I know she too is feeling right now. But what I miss the most is the relationship with her that I never really ever had.

When I finally cross into Connecticut, I glance over the passenger seat at all the detailed labels and special packaging and plastic wrappers. 

God bless her. I’d eaten nearly everything in the mom box. 


 A Rhode-Island based defense industry professional, Devin has written two screenplays, self-published one novel, and writes regularly for an online creative writers blog. He fell in love with fiction late in life, and depending on the story in work, it serves as both the cure and the cause of chronic insomnia.  As long as he stays in touch with the human condition, he vows to never run out of stories.   


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